12/11. Onion #4, oil on linen panel, 4x4 in.
I attempted to paint roughly, scumbling and scratching a lot, to match the skin of this onion. It was dry and dirty in places and unappealing, but it seemed to radiate all these clean colors which I don't normally see in onions. The first bold mark I made was the transparent crimson edge at top, and once I put some green and purple around it it felt alive like a slippery koi in a pond.
This isn't the best painting nor the most instructive experiment, but in it are some interesting things. I've been thinking a lot lately about why I paint (and why I'm so glad to be painting again after so long) and what it is that's so interesting about doing little studies which don't deviate much in composition. Maybe this goes for most other oil painters who aren't concerned with the avant-garde (there's no such thing anymore), but for me it's simply got to be the nature of paint and the experience of color on the eyes, the almost musical play of pigment floating luminously next to, around, and beneath airy veils and dense tapestries of color. I wish I could describe it more eloquently. Although I wasn't yet ready for the journey at the time, perhaps I had decided years ago as Markowsky was encouraging us to exploit it in painting class - but especially when I first saw paintings by Bonington in a book - that my goal should be to find the balance between transparent and opaque. That's all.
By this I mean: not to dance around that point, emulating Velasquez, where at a certain viewing distance the image comes together and is no longer a chaos of disparate strokes. Nor strive for Rembrandt's light, or some "secret" process or medium of his - he had none, just skill and patience. Nor, as I've started to realize more and more, attempt to "transcribe" nature the way Liszt condensed Beethoven's giant symphonies to be played on a piano - though that's not a feat to laugh at. Sure, all of these things together are ideal, but I just want to be there when the little mysteries in the paint reveal themselves. Like when oil mimics watercolor and changes back again. Bonington made paint sing - his sketchy pieces still kill me after all these years (and I'll have to scan some pictures from a book next time to justify my obsession, since you can't find any good examples anywhere else). Sargent did it too - but I believe what I'm talking about isn't what his wannabes today are emulating (flashy brushstrokes that sculpt a face or a hand or the lapel of a jacket with as few notes as possible). Well ok, add that to the list of ideal things, as Bonington was a master of economy too.
But those things are all human things, the craft side of painting, like the way a chef puts the food in little stacks on a rectangular plate and drizzles the sauce over it in graceful zigzags. Or like the way a carpenter shapes the wood. Bad comparisons perhaps? Before constructing the joints or "plating" the food, there are the different woods, the ingredients of a dish, and their wondrous qualities. So, although I have a lot to learn about the craft of painting, what's always more interesting is what the paint does to me and not what I can do to it.